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October 6, 2010

PA Council votes themselves pay raise

PORT ARTHUR — After adopting a 3 percent cost of living raise for non-civil city employees last week, Port Arthur’s City Council decided to do the same for themselves.

At their Sept. 28 meeting, City Council approved the city’s 2010-2011 fiscal year budget in the amount of $92 million. Included in the new budget was a $2.7 million deficit which included $750,000 in employee pay raises.

City Council at their regular meeting Tuesday voted 7-2 for a 3 percent raise in mayoral and council wages. The expenditure adds another $2,014.80 in deficit spending.

Voting against the wage increase was Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince and District 5 Councilman John Beard Jr. Voting for the increase was Mayor pro tem Morris Albright III, District 2 Councilwoman Elizabeth “Liz” Segler; District 1 Councilman Jack Chatman Jr., District 4 Councilman Martin Flood; and Position 8 Councilman Tom Henderson.

“Here we are talking about lay offs and reorganizations, and we are going to take more money,” Beard said. “I was not in favor of it because it was damaging.”

Prince said she voted against the pay raises because she didn’t feel like the council, or the mayor, needed raises at this time.

To fund the deficit, the city will have to dip into its $27 million reserves. State mandates require the city to keep $17 million in reserves. Anything over can be spent at the city’s discretion.

With the pay raise, City Council members and the city’s mayor pro tem will earn $576.50 per month. The city’s mayor with the raise included will receive an additional $33.58, making the monthly salary $1,152.98.

In addition to their monthly salaries, the mayor pro tem receives  $950 in monthly car allowance payments; the mayor $1,000; and council members an additional $900 per month for the use of their personal vehicles on city business.

There was no increase in the allowance for vehicles voted into the new budget.

“The city is not financially broke, but we are having to be proactive in making sure we can maintain the level of services next year,” Mayor Prince said.

Among those pro-active measures is the reorganization of certain departments.

The budget included about $1 million in savings derived from reorganization of three city departments. Some employee positions have been eliminated as a result of the reorganization.

City Manager Steve Fitzgibbons said the city’s shop area has been reduced substantially. The shop will concentrate on repairing public works equipment. Other city repairs that were completed in the shop will be performed by public vendors.

The department has gone from 12 employees to now five — most of those transferred to other departments, Fitzgibbons said. Others — employees off work because of workman compensation claims — are under review.

“Our goal is if they can return to work, we will place them,” he said.

In other shifts, environmental inspectors and clerical staff were moved from community services to the city’s health department with no loss of employee positions.

The city’s planning department has been reorganized as part of the budget cuts. Housing and grant management functions will no longer be performed from the planning department.

“The department will now concentrate on planning alone, Ron Burton, who was assistant director of planning and zoning and grants management will now be director.

Colleen Russell will be director over the city’s transit system and on a part-time basis will work with the city’s downtown re-development committee. Ron Burton, former assistant director for the city’s Planning Department will now be director over planning and zoning and grants management.

The city also eliminated a vacant position in housing and moved another to the public works department.

These changes have saved in not only the people, but in the amount of city operations,” Fitzgibbons said.

The city is facing the budget shortfall largely from decreased industrial district payments, which comprise 42 percent of the city’s general fund revenue. This year, the values which are the basis of those payments, are down 25 percent. That number is expected to increase next year, Beard said.

Sales tax revenue is also down by about $2 million, but is expected to level out and go up in coming months.

skoonce@panews.com

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